Scenes from the Jobbik Demonstration

Arriving to Heroes’ Square on a rainy winter night: about 2,000 people, many of the same bad faces (rossz arcok) as at Jobbik demonstrations in the old days, though with the baddest faces now gone; the same old party flags with the double cross emerging from some kind of red-lidded green eyeball, though the neo-Hungarist Árpád-striped flags that used to be so many now nowhere to be seen; national rock thundering from amplifiers on the speaker’s platform, though no longer the bellicose Kárpátia mantras, but something milder, less aggressive, less threatening.

Very few cops in sight, though just 50 yards from Fidesz party headquarters, unlike the old days when there were hundreds in full riot gear.

This is the new Jobbik, the “people’s party.”

But what is really new here is the presence of the liberal opposition: around 100 people affiliated with Momentum, Together (Együtt) and allegedly Politics Can Be Different (LMP) as well, though saw no sign of the latter party. They stand in back, away from the dense crowd gathered around the platform, holding Hungarian and European Union flags as a couple of unknown Jobbik speakers cough and stutter through speeches about the wrongdoings of the State Audit Office (see Legislative Amendments on Outdoor Political Advertising) .

The opposition news website 444.hu is here doing interviews and one of the people in the liberal group, a balding man in his 40s, tells the reporter with a quiver of antipathy in his voice: “I am the person at whom this crowd used to shout dirty Jew and scumbag liberal. The difference between the two [the liberals and the Jobbik supporters] is that we stand up for them, though they don’t stand up for us.”

The journalist Róbert Puzsér stands to the microphone, steadies himself with arms extended to the lectern, and begins to speak in his somewhat enervated voice. He is unaffiliated with Jobbik and can therefore talk with his customary explicitness about the party’s transformation:

I look out at the participants in this demonstration and it makes me think of the joke about the Gypsy, the rabbi and the skinhead who get together in order to save the rule of law. This coalition is surreal. Ágnes Heller, the Marxist prophetess. Árpád Schilling, the apostle of me-too and feminist ideology. The liberal icon György Konrád. The Ron Werber-led LMP. The Momentum [party] that is campaigning with its Orbán look-alike president. The Outlaw Army [Betyársereg] founder now playing border-castle captain, László Toroczkai, and all the other Jobbik politicians who not long ago were still reviling Jews and Gypsies and rhapsodizing about Putin, though who feeling Orbán’s whip on their backs have learned to like democracy. And, moreover, [Jobbik President] Gábor Vona, who used to serve the causes of racism, militarism and Horthy nostalgia with precisely the same enthusiasm and determination as he now plays the role of the angel of democracy . . .

And now Vona. The same old vehemence, though with Viktor Orbán in the role of enemy-from-within: “Like a low-down, worthless, sneaky thief he slips into our gardens at night and steals our inner freedom.”  The leader of Jobbik acclaims the new coalition that he hopes will one day make him the leader of Hungary: “I think that today is not merely an episode, I think that today is not a simple protest against some unlawful procedure. I believe that here today many different kinds of people have taken a historic step toward a just, honorable and free Hungary, toward a twenty-first century Hungary.”

The speech over, the crowd disperses. Walking down Andrássy Avenue next to former LMP leader András Schiffer the dampness on the sidewalks has assumed an icy sheen. A few stray snowflakes fall to the ground.

Click on any photo to see gallery view.

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The Jobbikization of Fidesz (Act I): Reinstatement of the Death Penalty

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (right):

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (left) speaking at April 28 press conference (photo: MTI).

On April 22, 2015, a 21-year-old clerk was stabbed to death during the robbery of a National Tobacco Shop in the city of Kaposvár (southwestern Hungary, pop. 65,000).

During a press conference on April 28, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in response to a question about the murder (source in Hungarian):

Although we believed that we had settled questions connected to the Hungarian criminal code and criminal prosection when we introduced the three strikes and life imprisonment without parole, the issue of the death penalty must be kept on the agenda in Hungary and we must let it be known that we do not shy away from anything.

The death penalty has not been applied in Hungary since the country’s Constitutional Court declared capital punishment to be unconstitutional in October 1990. Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union furthermore prohibits capital punishment in EU member states, including Hungary.

The Radical nationalist Movement for a Better Hungary, or Jobbik, is the only National Assembly party in Hungary that officially advocates reinstatement of the death penalty. Jobbik has steadily gained support in opinion polls conducted over recent months to become Hungary’s second-most popular party behind the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) alliance (source A and B in Hungarian). Jobbik moreover won its first head-to-head National Assembly election in April in voting for a vacated National Assembly mandate in Veszprém County (source in Hungarian and see Two-Thirds Minus Two: the Jobbik Breakthrough).

Orbán’s suggestion that his government might consider restoring the death penalty provoked criticism from both the democratic opposition as well as his own governing alliance: KDNP Vice-President Bence Rétvári announced that the party rejects the death penalty for religious reasons, while many Fidesz officials also voiced fundamental opposition to capital punishment (source A, B and C in Hungarian).

European Parliament President Martin Schulz (photo: europedecides.eu).

European Parliament President Martin Schulz (photo: europedecides.eu).

European Union leaders also challenged Prime Minister Orbán’s apparent espousal of the death penalty: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said “Mr Orbán must immediately make clear that this is not his intention. If it would be his intention, it would be a fight” (source in English); and European Parliament (EP) deputy Jörg Leichtfried referred to the death penalty as “barbaric and an infringement of European law” (source in English).

On April 30, European Parliament President Martin Schulz and EP political-group leaders asked the body’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to convene “to address the situation in Hungary as a matter of urgency [regarding] the statement by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about a possible restoration of the death penalty” (source in English)

Later on this same date, Prime Minister Orbán “assured President Schulz that the Hungarian government has no plans to take any steps to introduce the death penalty. Prime Minister Orban further assured the President that the Hungarian government will respect and honour all European treaties and legislation” (source in English); and Prime Ministry chief János Lázár said during a press conference that, although he personally supports the death penalty, “We will honor the values of the European Union. Democracy and democratic debate represent such fundamental values, thus the EU cannot reject any debate regarding the difficulties and problems of people” (source in Hungarian).

Orbán said later during a subsequent interview on Hungarian Radio that the government would like to promote the introduction of conditions within the European Union that would enable “all nation states to themselves decide on the death penalty” (source in Hungarian).

Prime Minister Orbán presumably floated the unrealistic prospect of restoring the death penalty in an attempt to stop the recent migration of voters from Fidesz-KDNP to Jobbik through expression of support for one of the central elements of the radical-nationalist party’s political platform. The prime minister and his government will likely continue to pursue this tactic as long as Jobbik presents the greatest challenge to Fidesz-KDNP’s political power. Over the long term, use of this tactic could serve to substantiate the old Hungarian maxim: “That which belongs together grows together” (összenő, ami összetartozik).

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Two-Thirds Minus Two: the Jobbik Breakthrough

Jobbik President Gábor Vona (left) and victorious party- candidate Lajos Rig shake hands (photo: MTI).

Jobbik President Gábor Vona (left) congratulates victorious party-candidate Lajos Rig (photo: MTI).

On April 12, 2015, radical-nationalist Jobbik party candidate Lajos Rig narrowly defeated his FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) rival in a National Assembly by-election in Veszprém County.

Rig thus became the first Jobbik candidate ever to win a National Assembly election. The other 23 representatives in the current Jobbik caucus and all party representatives in the previous parliamentary cycle gained their seats in the National Assembly via party lists (see National Assembly Election System).

Fidesz-KDNP candidates have lost both by-elections held since 2014 National Assembly elections (see Two-Thirds Minus One). The governing alliance has thereby forfeited the second consecutive two-thirds supermajority it commanded in Hungary’s parliament.

Jobbik candidate Rig received 35.3 percent of the votes cast in the April 12 by-election, while Fidesz-KDNP candidate Zoltán Fenyvesi received 34.4 percent of the votes and Hungarian Socialist Party-Democratic Coalition candidate Ferenc Pad received 26.3 percent of the votes (source in Hungarian).

In the April 2014 regular election, the Fidesz-KDNP candidate won 43.1 percent of the votes cast, while the united democratic-opposition candidate won 27.3 percent of the votes and the Jobbik candidate won 23.5 percent of the votes (source in Hungarian).

Jobbik candidate Rig received 10,354 of 29,358 votes cast in the April 2015 by-election, while Jobbik candidate Zoltán Dobó received 10,110 of 43,042 votes cast in the regular election one year earlier. Voter participation was 41.6 percent in the by-election, down from 59.9 percent in the regular election.

Table Good

The data indicates that a large number of constituents who voted for the Fidesz-KDNP candidate in the 2014 regular election either voted for the Jobbik candidate in the 2015 by-election or did not participate.

The data also corroborates the results of recent party-preference polls that have shown an increase in support for Jobbik to near that of Fidesz-KDNP (source A and B in Hungarian). 

Speaking during a plenary session of the National Assembly on April 13, Jobbik President Gábor Vona said that “Voters pushed the first brick out of the decaying edifice of the System Change” in the previous day’s by-election, which he characterized as a “genuine voting-booth revolution” (source in Hungarian).

The Jobbik candidate’s victory in the by-election confirms that the party has become able to replicate at the national level the success it has already achieved at the local level (see 24 Bastions) and could be on the the way to becoming a major—perhaps even dominant—player in Hungary’s next National Assembly elections scheduled to take place in 2018. 

For more information regarding Jobbik’s ideology, base of support and activities see: Interview: Jobbik President Gábor Vona; Taking the Ball; The Jobbik May Day Celebration; Ides of March; The First Little Pinprick; Follow the Evil Twin; Uniform Disorder; and The New Hungarian Guard/For a Better Future Hungarian Self-Defense

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Interview: Jobbik President Gábor Vona

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Jobbik President Gábor Vona (photo: alon.hu).

Below is an Orange Files translation of the final two-thirds of an interview that a journalist from the Lajos Simicska-owned newspaper Magyar Nemzet conducted with Jobbik President Gábor Vona at the end of March 2015  (source in Hungarian). The journalist’s initial question in the translated text refers to Vona’s call in a major speech earlier this year for reconciliation among the sharply divided political factions in Hungary (see Taking the Ball) and to two incidents involving Jobbik officials that surfaced in the Hungarian media recently: Mezőtúr Municipal Council member János Kötél’s anti-Gypsy Internet postings and National Assembly representative Gergely Kulcsár’s spitting on the Shoes on the Danube Bank Holocaust memorial in Budapest (sources A and B in Hungarian).

[. . .]

Magyar Nemzet: Are the Gypsy-inciting [cigányozó] János Kötél or Gergely Kulcsár, who spit on the quayside Holocaust memorial, compatible with reconciliation? 

Gábor Vona: No. However, it is not an accident that these events that took place years ago are emerging just now. The strengthening and people’s-party strategy of Jobbik frighten many people and both Fidesz and the HSP [Hungarian Socialist Party] are interested in trying to push us back into the extremist-party pigeonhole. The cited cases entailed consequences and I think that with time events of this type will vanish from the party. In the instance of Gergely Kulcsár, for example, the party immediately indicated that it distances itself from the action and considers it to be scandalous and unacceptable. I asked Gergely to take a flower to the quay in order to show that he regretted it as well. And, in fact, he did regret it even if many people find it hard to believe him. There is no room in Jobbik for irreverent, vulgar actions that express collective judgement. However, this does not mean that it isn’t possible to speak about, let’s say, domestic Jews, Israel’s policies or even the Gypsy problem.

Magyar Nemzet: Is standing with a flower for the sake of a photograph a true consequence?

Gábor Vona: The most important thing is that we make it clear: what Jobbik is and what Jobbik isn’t. One can lament about whether this measure was sufficient or not. But the most important thing is that we gave expression to this: Jobbik shares in the mourning of all victims—including those of the Jews—and regards insult to this mourning to be unacceptable. And just to put it in parentheses: how many parties usually ask for forgiveness in Hungary?

Magyar Nemzet: Do you sleep soundly? Aren’t you scared that other such instances will surface?

Gábor Vona: Over this, very soundly. The reason I sleep with greater difficulty is the increasing reality of governing responsibility.

Magyar Nemzet: Do you regard Jobbik to be capable of governing?

Gábor Vona: I don’t think that there is any party that is one-hundred percent capable of governing. A party comes to power and strives to meet the challenge. This must be prepared for and if the moment comes we will respond to the best of our ability. We will have no lack of specialists, because we have many talented young people, many experienced old foxes who have preserved their integrity and, finally, there are many specialists in the state administration who have not yet declared that they belong to Jobbik, though if we come to power we can count on them. The year of volunteerism during which our representatives are going out among the people and trying out different sectors is helping a lot in terms of preparation from both a human and a professional standpoint.

Magyar Nemzet: At the same time Jobbik is not accepted in Europe.

Gábor Vona: This is why western opening is important to me. Since 2010 I have been repeating that Hungary must assert its interests in a German-Russian-Turkish triangle. Even Viktor Orbán acknowledged this not long ago. For me and for us there are no and will be no problems in the Russian and Turkish direction—I must establish good relations with Germany. This will be terribly difficult, because the German press is even worse than the Hungarian [press] and passes us off as a neo-Nazi party. However, I would like to show leading German political officials the genuine Jobbik.

Magyar Nemzet: Have you done anything in this interest yet?

Gábor Vona: I have begun to put out feelers, that is, on our part we are open. Germany must face up to our strengthening and decide if it’s willing to engage in dialogue with Jobbik—a people’s party Jobbik.

Magyar Nemzet: Would you still like to hold a referendum on our European Union membership?

Gábor Vona: I think that much has changed in the European Union since we joined and that Hungarian society must be given the opportunity to form an opinion on this. I must emphasize that we are not anti-Europe and that our EU criticism is not visceral. However it must be stated that behind all the gloss the community works anti-democratically and unjustly. For example, that they exploit the eastern member-states and that negotiations are taking place with the United States in secret regarding the planned free-trade agreement. All of this is unacceptable.

Magyar Nemzet: In the event of a referendum will you campaign on the side of withdrawal [from the European Union]?

Gábor Vona: The current EU is not good for Hungary. But this would not be the first question. First we would ask people about modifying the membership treaty and if renegotiation is not possible then the decision about withdrawal must be made.

Magyar Nemzet: Do you consider it to be realistic that we would withdraw [from the European Union]?

Gábor Vona: I don’t consider it to be inconceivable that such a situation could arise in the over the medium term, though in the short term it is not realistic. On the one hand, Hungarian society would not likely make such a decision, while on the other hand Hungary is not prepared for this in an economic sense. Unfortunately, over the previous [parliamentary] cycles governments were so taken in by European Union membership that they didn’t think of a “plan B.” However, I think that this is necessary, because it could happen that we don’t withdraw from the EU, but that it simply falls apart.

Magyar Nemzet: Do you have a problem with our NATO membership as well?

Gábor Vona: This causes a much bigger headache. In may opinion we are looking at a prolonged Russian-American conflict and I am convinced that this [conflict] is taking place in Hungary as well even if not yet with weapons. We do not need this. It would be worthwhile to discuss what kind of relations we must maintain with NATO and it would be possible to open a social debate on this. This is as far as I would go for the time being.

Magyar Nemzet: What kind of relations are you thinking of?

Gábor Vona: There are several versions and even neutrality as in the case of Switzerland or Austria cannot be excluded. But those are very distant questions.

Magyar Nemzet: What do you mean by saying that the Russian-American conflict is taking place here at home as well?

Gábor Vona: It is taking place here at home precisely because Hungary is a NATO member, moreover we have better and better economic relations with Russia. I do not consider it to be inconceivable that the conflict taking place on the territory of Ukraine will escalate again and then Hungary will find itself in a very difficult position because as a NATO member state we would have to enter this war and under certain circumstances wage war against Russia. I would really caution Hungary against this. One point of the four-question signature collection currently taking place pertains precisely to this—that our homeland would remain neutral in spite of [NATO] membership. It is not an accident that according to our signature collectors this is our second very popular proposal behind pensions for men who have worked for 40 years.

Magyar Nemzet: You also reject participation in the action against the Islamic State.

Gábor Vona: That’s right, because such a mission would not merely endanger the security of Hungarian soldiers, but it will raise the terrorist threat of the ten million people living here. We also regard the Islamic State—which I consider to be neither Islamic nor a state—to be an enemy to be defeated, but this is not Hungary’s duty. We will stay with providing humanitarian assistance.

Magyar Nemzet: Somebody has to take action against the Islamic State. Who should this be?

Gábor Vona: I think that it is primarily the duty of the United States and those great powers who armed the predecessor groups of the Islamic State.

Magyar Nemzet: With this you acknowledge that the United States is the world’s gendarme who has the right to intervene anytime and anywhere?

Gábor Vona: It would be really good if it weren’t this way. But one of the most important reasons that the Islamic State is so strong is that the United States armed these groups during the intervention against Assad. The existence of the Islamic State is furthermore connected to immigration. It is to be feared that among the immigrants some could arrive here that are not economic or political refugees, but terror cells. Another question in the signature collection is precisely the clampdown on immigration.

Magyar Nemzet: Do you have any concrete ideas?

Gábor Vona: In the first phase the refugee centers must be sealed so that those who arrive there cannot rummage about freely. However the phenomenon must be handled more thoroughly and profoundly knowing that the refugee question is not a member-state issue.

Magyar Nemzet: What is your [Jobbik’s] relationship with the United States?

Gábor Vona: I cannot say that it is too rosy. Along with Germany, I would like a sound relationship with the United States as well. I would like to make them understand that Hungary is an independent country that would like to take its own path and therefore they should not try to pull us into its conflicts.

Magyar Nemzet: Where does this attempt to put relations in order stand? Similarly to the case with Germany?

Gábor Vona: The two are comparable only in that the American press isn’t too good either. Here, I must frankly say, I have not yet taken any steps either—this will be the task of the coming period. First we must prove ourselves in domestic politics and make it clear to Germany, the United States and everybody else that Jobbik is a potential governing party and, like it or not, you must talk to us is some way. We are open to this. I could not promise that we will be an easy negotiating partner or that you will be able to spread us on bread at these meetings, but I can state that we will be correct, rational and open.

Magyar Nemzet: Will you initiate contacts with the new American ambassador?

Gábor Vona: I don’t want to rush into things, though I think that the moment will come when we will have to meet, if for no other than official purposes.

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Taking the Ball

Jobbik President Gábor Vona (Orange Files photo).

          Jobbik President Gábor Vona           (photo: Orange Files).

On January 31, 2015, President Gábor Vona of the radical-nationalist party Jobbik presented his annual “appraisal of the year” (évértékelő) address in Budapest (source in Hungarian). Below is an Orange Files translation of an abridged version of Vona’s speech:

Hungary is in trouble. How often do we hear this on the street, in our everyday lives, on the television, everywhere. For this reason, this phrase has become worn out, often it means almost nothing―it is an empty cliché. I would nevertheless begin my speech with it: Hungary is in trouble. And what’s more, big trouble. . . .

(For the entire translation, see Gábor Vona Appraisal of the Year Speech—January 31, 2015). 

Jobbik President Vona’s address was similar in theme, outlook and tone to those that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has delivered for years, even as Fidesz president before his return to power as head of government in 2010 (see: Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State; Prime Minister Orbán’s Speech to National Assembly – May 10, 2014; Prime Minister Orbán’s Speech to Supporters – May 10, 2014; Vlad Beyond Reproach; and Notable Quotes: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán). The Vona speech shares the following specific attributes with many Orbán speeches: 

—Emphasis on the notion that “Hungary is in trouble” in order to exploit the ingrained political hysteria of Hungarians as a means of garnering political support (see The Phony Realist);

—The claim that “the type of liberal democracy that gained power over Hungary in 1989 is not a functioning system” and that “the system of the past 25 years became exhausted and failed” and “was built upon lies”;

—The allegation that “Brussels currently rests on profit-oriented foundations from which the West can exploit the eastern states and as glass beads offer a little support in exchange”;

—The precedence of the “community” of the Hungarian nation over the individual (“the multitude of people”);

—Reference to God and Christianity forces unifying the Hungarian nation;

—The assertion that “dramatic international transformation” has placed Hungary in a perilous position “at the intersection of global conflict”; 

—Rejection of the “the unilateral world domination of the United States”;

—The insistence that “Hungary must develop and independent Russian policy” and “remain neutral” in the renewed conflict between the West and Russia.

—And the contention that “the fate of a quarter million Hungarians in Ukraine has come into doubt” and criticism of the policies of the latter country toward its Hungarian minority because it has “humiliated and threatened them and circumscribed their rights.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaking to supporters outside the Hungarian Parliament Building after taking his oath of office for the new parliamentary cycle beginning in 2014.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaking to supporters outside the Hungarian Parliament Building in May 2014 (photo: Hungarian News Agency).

Both Vona, as the leader of Jobbik, and Orbán, as the leader of Fidesz, have long articulated these common attitudes and positions (see Follow the Evil Twin). However, the speech that Vona delivered on January 31, 2015 lacked the central element that distinguished the Jobbik president’s previous discourse from that of Prime Minister Orbán: expressions of collective antipathy toward Hungarian Jews and Gypsies (see Notable Quotes: Jobbik President Gábor Vona).

Over the past few weeks, Vona has distanced himself from anti-Gypsy and -Semitic racism. On February 9, 2015, he issued a statement condemning “in the most resolute manner possible” the anti-Gypsy Facebook posts of a newly elected Jobbik municipal-council member from Mezőtúr and required him to move into the house of the Gypsy leader of the party’s local chapter in nearby Hajdúszoboszló for a period of three days (source in Hungarian). On February 11, 2015, Vona said during an interview on the opposition television station ATV “Maybe I expressed myself somewhat angularly on certain matters, but I don’t think that I [ever] made any anti-Semitic statements” (source in Hungarian)

Vona has presumably attempted to divest himself and Jobbik of the mantle of racism in order to appropriate in its full material and spiritual form the political program that propelled Fidesz to landslide victories in Hungary’s past two National Assembly elections in 2010 and 2014, but which the Orbán government has been compelled to moderate considerably over the past few months as the result of pressure from the United States and the European Union, specifically Germany (see Back in the Fold?, The Spectacular Fall and Teutonic Shift).

Gábor Vona’s gradual transformation into the leading proponent of many of the Hungarian nationalist tenets and policies that Viktor Orbán skillfully employed to attain an unprecedented degree of power for a head of government in a Western democratic state after 2010 has arguably been one of main factors behind Jobbik’s steady rise to all-time highs in opinion polls since October and Fidesz’s drop to multi-year lows over that same period (source in Hungarian).

The phenomenon of a political leader renouncing his formerly explicit racism in order to consolidate his authority is not without precedent in Hungarian history: in his first speech after becoming prime minister in 1932, the former leader of the anti-Semitic Racial-Defense Party (Fajvédő Párt), Gyula Gömbös, declared “To the Jews I openly and frankly state: I have revised my opinion. I wish to regard those Jews who recognize a community of fate with the nation as brothers and sisters in the same way as I do my Hungarian brothers and sisters” (source in Hungarian).

And indeed, although he did much to incorporate Hungary into the authoritarian political sphere of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, Prime Minister Gömbös initiated no measures that served to directly impair the rights or otherwise harm the interests of Hungarian Jews during his four years in office from 1932 to 1936. 

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24 Bastions

Marking party victories at the Jobbik municipal-election headquarters on October 12.

“The Future Cannot Be Stopped”: marking party victories at the Jobbik municipal-election headquarters on October 12, 2014 (index.hu photo).

On November 9, 2014, candidates from the radical-nationalist Jobbik party won mayoral elections repeated in the city of Ózd and the village of Recsk, both in northern Hungary, after regional election officials determined that balloting at these locations in early October had failed to produce bona fide winners (source in Hungarian).

These victories raised the number of Jobbik mayors in Hungary pursuant to 2014 mayoral elections to 14, compared to just three as the result of 2010 mayoral elections (main source in Hungarian).

A further 10 independent candidates who ran with official support from Jobbik were victorious in mayoral elections held throughout Hungary on October 12.

Therefore, 24 communities in Hungary now have Jobbik or Jobbik-supported mayors, compared to 12 at the end of the last municipal-government cycle (see note below).

Ten of the latter 12, including László Toroczkai of Ásotthalom (see First Little Pinprick) and Mihály Zoltán Orosz of Érpatak (see The Second Little Pinprick), won reelection this fall.

Supporters carry newly elected 27-year-old Mayor Dávid Janiczak of Ózd on their shoulders on November 9, 2014 (index.hu photo).

Jobbik or Jobbik-supported candidates won two-thirds of their victories in the Northern Hungarian Mountains and the Northern Great Plain, thus signifying a continuation of the party’s success in these impoverished and highly Gypsy-populated regions of the country.

And, for the first time, Jobbik and Jobbik-supported candidates won mayoral elections in cities with populations of over 20,000—Békéscsaba, Ózd and Törökszentmiklós.

One should not exaggerate the significance of the gains that Jobbik achieved in 2014 mayoral elections: party or party-supported mayors still serve as the highest-ranking elected officials in less than one percent of the 3,177 communities in Hungary with municipal governments. However, this fall’s mayoral elections show that Jobbik has not only gained popularity in the party’s established rural strongholds in rural northeastern and eastern Hungary, but has also made political inroads in towns and small cities in these sections of the country and begun to extend its political reach into the more economically developed region of Transdanubia. If these trends continue over the next four years, Jobbik could challenge the Fidesz-KDNP governing alliance’s local-level political supremacy in the part of Hungary lying to the east of the Danube River in 2018.

Note: Four of these 12 mayors won 2010 elections—three as Jobbik candidates and one as a Jobbik-supported independent; two won 2010 elections as independents before joining Jobbik in 2012; and six won by-elections—four as Jobbik candidates and two as Jobbik-supported independents.

 

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Jobbik victories in 2014 mayoral elections: black = Jobbik mayor; gray = Jobbik-supported independent mayor (Orange Files graphic).

 

Communities in which Jobbik candidates won 2014 mayoral elections:

Ózd (pop. 33,944);

Törökszentmiklós (20,827);

Tapolca (15,823);

Tiszavasvári (12,954);

Devecser (4,378);

Monorierdő (4,073);

Ásotthalom, (3,855);

Tuzsér (3,397);

Recsk (2,696);

Kosd (2,447);

Hencida (1,219);

Mátraballa (764);

Bánokszentgyörgy (641).

Gasztony (430).

Communities in which Jobbik-suppported independents won 2014 mayoral elections:

Békéscsaba (60,571);

Rakamaz (4,442);

Békésszentandrás (3,660);

Gyöngyössolymos (2,823);

Érpatak (1,681);

Szabolcsbáka (1,181);

Jéke (727);

Kemenessömjén (591);

Lovászhetény (302);

Martonfa (213).

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The Second Little Pinprick

Érpatak Mayor Mihály Zoltán Orosz stomps on a modified Israeli flag.

Érpatak Mayor Mihály Zoltán Orosz stomps on a modified Israeli flag.

On August 2, 2014, de facto Jobbik (de jure independent) Mayor Mihály Zoltán Orosz of Érpatak (eastern Hungary, population 1,700) hanged current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former President Shimon Peres of Israel in effigy from gallows erected in front of the village council building. Mayor Orosz conducted the mock executions after ceremonially trampling on an Israeli flag bearing a Masonic Square and Compass in place of the Star of David to protest the “continual holocaust taking place in Palestine,” specifically the hundreds of Palestinians killed during Israel’s military operations in Gaza (video of event in Hungarian). 

Orosz, who became the mayor of  Érpatak in 2010, has become well-known in Hungary for appearing at public events in various types of Hungarian historical costume and for his so-called “Érpatak Model” of maintaining order in the village, which essentially consists of imposing coercive measures on its Gypsy inhabitants in order to compel them to do public work and respect the law (source in Hungarian).

Orosz is also a known for his close connection to radical-nationalist organizations such as the New Hungarian Guard, the Outlaw Army (Betyársereg) and the 64 Counties Youth Movement (Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom) as well as various neo-Nazi Hungarist groups (source in Hungarian). 

Mayor Orosz watches as the executioner kicks the stool from underneath the effigy of Shimon Peres.

Mayor Orosz watches as the executioner kicks the stool from underneath the effigy of Shimon Peres.

During one of his annual public commemorations of the attempt of German and Hungarian military forces to break out of the Soviet siege of Budapest in February 1945, Orosz referred to Second World War fascist Arrow Cross head of state and government Ferenc Szálasi as Hungary’s “martyred national leader” (source in Hungarian). 

Orosz has also launched an increasing number of high-profile attacks on liberals and manifestations of liberalism in Hungary, most recently making the 200-kilometer trip to Budapest earlier in the summer to heckle participants in the city’s annual gay parade (source in Hungarian).

On June 18, 2014, the Nyíregyháza Court of Justice ruled that Orosz had committed an illegal act of political discrimination when he ordered police to remove a local member of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union from his 2013 commemoration of the 1945 German-Hungarian attempt to escape the Soviet siege of Budapest (source in Hungarian).

The hanging in effigy of Israel’s head of government and former head of state that Orosz organized on August 2 may entail further legal proceedings against him: on August 5, Hungary’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office announced that at the request of the Israeli embassy in Budapest it had initiated an investigation of the mayor of Érpatak on suspicion of incitement (source in Hungarian).   

Sign on the gallows used to hang the effigy of Shimon Peres.

Sign on gallows used to hang the effigy of Shimon Peres.

And, for the first time, the Orbán administration condemned Orosz’s antics: on August 4, Minister of External Economy and Foreign Affairs Tibor Navracsics issued a statement in which he declared that “Arbitrary and symbolic administration of justice toward the leaders of other states is incompatible with European norms and rule of law. The mayor is exploiting the innocent victims of the Gaza war as a pretext for disseminating his malicious propaganda (source in Hungarian). 

Perhaps the Orbán government will soon decide that it really wants to inhibit the spread of racist radical nationalism in the economically disadvantaged regions of rural eastern and southern Hungary after either ignoring or tacitly encouraging this phenomenon during the 2010–2014 parliamentary cycle. However, Mihály Zoltán Orosz’s ardently anti-liberal, anti-Semitic, anti-West and anti-democratic policies and activities as mayor of Érpatak, the victory of 64 Counties Youth Movement leader László Toroczkai in by-elections for mayor in the village of Ásotthalom in December 2013 (see The First Little Pinprick) and the significant degree of support for the New Hungarian Guard (see Uniform Disorder) and Jobbik (see Crunching the Election Numbers) in these parts of the country suggest that it may be too late.  

Postscript: a reporter from the opposition weekly Magyar Narancs talked to the man who played the role of executioner in the mock hanging: he reported that Mayor Orosz had enlisted him to do this job as part of his village “social work” duties and that “It doesn’t matter to me who’s shooting who and who they are hanging” (source in Hungarian). 

Pinpricks

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The Jobbik May Day Celebration

Scene from the annual Jobbik May Day celebration.

Scene from the annual Jobbik May Day celebration.

Always the dilemma for the historico-political observer in Budapest on May 1: which reincarnation of the oppressive twentieth-century isms to observe—the Workers’ Party at its May Day celebration in the City Park or Jobbik at its May Day celebration at Hajógyári [Ship Yard] Island.

This year: the neo-communists are on the rise, there is a new freshness to their red, more young people at their events, though they are still very small—only a half percent of the votes in the April National Assembly election. The neo-fascists are also on the rise, very much on the rise, in fact they form the third-largest party in the National Assembly after getting over 20 percent of the votes in the spring elections.

Really no contest: on the bike and up the Danube to Shipyard Island to see Jobbik.

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Jobbik European Parliament representative Krisztina Morvai.

Krisztina Morvai.

To the Big White Tent just in time to see the end of a speech from Jobbik European Parliament representative and former presidential candidate Krisztina Morvai: she predicts that the European Union may not last another ten years, because such an “unjust and inhumane” organization cannot survive too long. The banner hanging behind her reads “Shall We Be Members or Shall We Be Free?” in reference to an 1848 revolutionary poem from Hungarian national poet Sándor Petőfi. 

The tent is full. The crowd of several hundred applauds, especially when she says if the British don’t want Hungarian workers, then “Tesco go home!”

Morvai still uses the exaggerated facial and hand gestures that make it hard to get a good photo of her. She has also become very plump, though pleasantly so. They say her mother was a top model in Hungary back in the communist days.

Next up: Jobbik President Gábor Vona and National Assembly representative Sándor Pörzse, a former television journalist and present editor of the Jobbik weekly Barikád who smiles like he’s been told a thousand times that he has a nice smile.

Gábor Vona (left ) and Sándor Pörzse.

Gábor Vona (left ) and Sándor Pörzse.

Vona uses a very nasty term to describe the Hungarian Socialist Party—can’t remember which one exactly, heard this kind of political invective so many times before it just all kind of melds together in one big destructive and negative jumble. It probably had something to do with filth [mocsok] or refuse because the Jobbik president concludes his statement amid a crescendo of derisive laughter from the audience: “It doesn’t really matter anyway, because the socialists will soon end up in the trash heap of history!”

How on Earth can all of those people sit through these speeches? Must be looking forward to the food and drink, watching the fly settle on the head of the lady in front, thinking of something else.

Take a tour around the grounds as Vona drones on about the newest tragedy to befall Hungary—the expiration of the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land in the country to foreigners (i.e., citizens of other European Union countries).

The sound of a swooping jet from a nearby air show; Vona announces with mock relief: “I know that the EU doesn’t have any armed forces.” More applause, more derisive laughter.

Greater Hungary wall clocks and other nationalist wares.

Greater Hungary wall clocks and engravings.

This event has become much bigger and more sophisticated than it used to be: five years ago it had the feel of a village market fair—a few hundred people milling about, cheap wares, cheap attractions, the low-fi blare of oration and music; today several thousand people, dozens of stands with artisan-made Hungarian folk clothing, crafts and implements (expensive nationalist-kitsch), kids cracking whips with men dressed as traditional Hungarian Great Plain herdsmen, professional staging, hi-fi amplification.

The freshly made potato chips are delicious, but salty to the supreme and raise a mighty thirst. One beer is good, two even better at almost the same price as water. Many others have made the same calculation: faces are ruddy, eyes gleam. Spirits are high on this beautiful May 1 afternoon.

Sit on the grassy slope, listen to speech from Pörzse over loudspeakers and he says something that is actually candid and interesting: Jobbik has been unable to form alliances with other radical-nationalist parties in Europe because those from other countries in the region (Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia) are anti-Hungarian due to their Hungarian minority populations, while those from western Europe tend to be “pro-Israel” due to their Muslim minority populations. 

The folly of colliding nationalisms.

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Man dressed as Hungarian herdsman-outlaw speaks to family near stand selling Hungarian folk ware.

Back to the Great White Tent for a few more photos before the long ride home. Vona and Pörzse have turned their sights on Hungarian Socialist Party European Parliament party-list leader Tibor Szanyi, a preferred target ever since he gave the finger to the Jobbik National Assembly caucus during a plenary session of parliament last year. Pörzse says he would debate with Szanyi on the spot, though being a holiday the socialist EP-list leader probably wouldn’t be in condition to do so (in reference to Szanyi’s alleged fondness for drink).

Look down at feet and Krisztina Morvai is there squatting down right there, listening to Vona and Pörzse castigating Szanyi. She is wearing a loose-fitting Hungarian folk skirt and short-cut embroidered blouse. There is a large gap of rather sensuous bareness between them. The top of the crack of her backside is clearly visible (see This Kind of Place).

Ancient Hungarian drum ensemble.

Ancient Hungarian drum ensemble.

Stop at the main stage on the way out: a group of drummers in ancient Hungarian headgear and old-fashioned outfits beats out an ominous tribal rhythm. The desperation of radical-nationalist identity-seeking has begun to transcend the boundaries of the absurd in these parts. Then: young women, many of them copiously tatooed, display evening dresses with Hungarian embroidery and nationalist colors (namely the brown-red of the Hungarian uniforms in the 1848 revolution). Up next: concert from the nationalist rock group Ismerős Arcok (Familiar Faces). Heard them last on Szabadság Square in 2007, lead vocalist prompting audience with refrain, cupping ear and holding the microphone outward to catch the mass response: “Ferenc Szálasi!” (name of the prime minister who headed Hungary’s fascist Arrow Cross government in 1944–1945).

Unlock the bicycles from the security fencing around the stage. The crowd growing for the start of the main attraction, the coarse faces of those who suffer from poverty, ill-health and lack of education. Looking hard for deliverance, they think they have found it in the form of a party, a movement and a cultural force that make them proud to be who they are and tell them that all their problems stem from the foul doings of internal and external enemies. One gets the feeling that this whole thing is going to get much bigger before it starts getting smaller. And there may be hell to pay for it. 

The man standing alongside is wearing a shirt bearing the inscription, both front and back:  “I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew” [Magyar vagyok nem zsidó]. 

See Jobbik May Day Celebration photo gallery.

I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew.

I Am a Hungarian, not a Jew.

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Ides of March

DSC_0643March 15: national holiday in Hungary commemorating the outbreak of the 1848 revolution against Habsburg domination. Along with October 23, the national holiday commemorating the outbreak of the 1956 revolution against Soviet domination, the most important date on the country’s annual political calendar (see The Soft White Underbelly).

All the parties are active, their leaders hold speeches at various places throughout the center of Budapest. Politically involved citizens of the city are out and about, showing support for their side, checking out the adversary, curious to see what scandal and outrage this year’s happenings will produce.

2014: the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party alliance is three weeks away from another landslide election victory. The only question is whether Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will get another super majority in the National Assembly, again giving him the power to implement his legislative agenda without impediment. All else is simply detail: how much will Jobbik gain, how much will the democratic opposition lose? Will Politics Can Be Different even get into parliament?

DSC_0576Across the Franz Joseph Bridge by bike, Orange Files rides toward the annual state commemoration at the National Museum, where Petőfi read his “National Song” at the start of the 1848 revolt. On Kálvin Square only red and white Polish flags: the Law and Justice weekly Gazeta Polska has organized another Great Trip to Hungary to show support for Prime Minister Orbán, just as it did for the second pro-government Peace March in 2012. Images of Pope John Paul II, the Kaczyński twins, banners in Polish, anti-EU signs in English, men in military uniforms, from the Polish-Soviet War perhaps?

Are they aware of Orbán’s rapprochement with Russia?

Through the main gate to the steps of the National Museum to get a good photograph of Orbán. His security has become much tighter than it used to be—it is no longer easy to get a good close-up of him. Standing in the crowd, camera in hand: a bellicose patriotic poem shouted in a shrill voice; a pop version of the “National Song” and some folk dancing; then down the stairs strides the short and girthy prime minister, right on past—dammit!—across a ramp to a platform overlooking Museum Avenue for his speech.

Excuse me, thank you, excuse me, thank you—press back out through the crowd to Museum Avenue, the speech begun in his throaty, constricted voice, a variation of the same one he has given a hundred times before: life and death struggle, identifying the enemies, always in danger, Labanc, Muscovites, global capital: “The weak and cowardly are no longer dealt into the game.”

DSC_0605Something interesting: a copse of orange flags with the heads of Orbán and Putin side by side. A dozen silent protesters, those around them shouting occasional threats and epithets.

“The word ‘utility-fee cut’ would not look good in the National Song, but it is easy to see that just as today the reduction of unjust and inequitable burdens was for them [the 1848 revolutionaries] the first and most important task.” 

“Hungary is the most unified country in Europe.”

Orbán makes no direct reference to the upcoming elections. He doesn’t need to because he knows he’s going to win, and win big.

The speech is over, the protesters furl their Orbán-Putin flags and give a short interview to a German-speaking reporter through an interpreter. They say they are associated with Bajnai. One of them has a bloody lip.

By bike toward Lajos Kossuth Street, cannot even find the Politics Can Be Different assembly. The sky is turning oddly overcast, the dust and refuse of spring swirls in puffs of warm breeze.

DSC_0626The Polish march past, there are a couple hundred young people lined up along the sidewalk wearing orange, red and green t-shirts and holding well-made signs that say “Vote Against Jobbik!” They say they are a Facebook group, but nobody seems to know who paid for all the shirts and signs. Fidesz has turned its sights away from the foundering  democratic opposition toward Jobbik in order to protect its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. 

Coffee with an old friend and then the surprise of the day: the democratic opposition has cancelled its assembly due to expected high winds. Organizers in fluorescent vests announce the news on bullhorns. Lajos Kossuth Street is reopened to vehicle traffic. 

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, they find some way to sink even lower. The reason for the cancellation is not really rain and wind: it is that they have nothing to say, no hope in the elections, no reason for being in their present form. Gábor Fodor and the liberals are down at the Petőfi statue for a separate gathering. There are about a hundred people holding blue flags bearing the image of Lajos Kossuth. Fodor looks tired as he chats with elderly supporters, like he wishes he were somewhere else. 

JobbikOver to the Jobbik assembly on Deák Square. Almost everybody in black; cracked and distorted faces, it has the feel of one-third penitentiary, one-third insane asylum and one-third school for the mentally challenged. The New Hungarian Guard is there. Vona, Előd Novák and the rest are there. At least they have the mettle to withstand a little stormy weather. They know where they want to go and are committed to getting there. And they just might do it.

A billow of red, white and green balloons rises into the air and dissipates slowly into the heavy gray clouds above.  

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The First Little Pinprick

The new mayor of Ásotthalom: Toroczkai leading demonstrators to Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest to hold anti-government demonstration on October 22, 2007 (Orange Files photo).

László Toroczkai leading anti-government demonstration in Budapest on October 22, 2007 (photo: Orange Files).

In by-elections held on Sunday, December 15, voters in Ásotthalom (southern Hungary, population 4,000) elected the president of the radical-nationalist 64 Counties Youth Movement, László Toroczkai, to serve as mayor of the village. Toroczkai, who serves as a Jobbik representative in the Csongrád County General Assembly, ran for mayor of Ásotthalom as an independent, defeating a single rival candidate from the ruling Fidesz party with over 70 percent of the vote. Following the announcement of the election results, Jobbik issued the following communiqué: “Jobbik heartily congratulates its Csongrád County General Assembly representative and president of its ally, the 64 Counties Youth Movement  (Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom), László Toroczkai” (source in Hungarian).

Toroczkai is one of the most prominent radical nationalists in Hungary. He gained national recognition as the leader of the group of 1,500 football ultras and political extremists that overwhelmed police guarding the Hungarian Television headquarters in Budapest and laid waste to the building on September 19, 2006. He was one of the main leaders of the frequent and occasionally violent anti-government demonstrations that took place in the city over the subsequent two years.

Toroczkai-led extremists lay siege to the Hungarian Television headquarters in Budapest on September 19, 2006.

Toroczkai-led extremists lay siege to Hungarian Television headquarters on September 19, 2006.

The Toroczkai-lead 64 Counties Youth Movement is the organizer of the annual radical-nationalist festival Hungarian Island (Magyar Sziget) that hosts explicitly anti-Semitic, anti-Gypsy and anti-West speakers and rock bands. Toroczkai, himself, is known for his extremist rhetoric, such as when he spoke openly at the Hungarian Island festival in 2011 of  the “shooting to death” (agyonlövés) of both Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, stating that “We would have done an even greater favor for the Hungarian nation had we shot him [Gyurcsány] to death at the Communist Youth League’s camp when he was ten years old” (source in Hungarian). 

One should not draw overarching conclusions from the results of local by-elections. Nor should one ignore them completely. The election of the radical-nationalist icon László Toroczkai to serve as the mayor of a village in southern Hungary over a Fidesz rival may be the product of purely local, personal politics with no greater political implications. However, it may also suggest that the effort of Jobbik to build the party’s base of support in rural Hungary at Fidesz’s expense through the espousal of tough measures to combat “Gypsy crime” may have begun to pay off.

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